Guide to apa formatting

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Plagiarism is the failure to acknowledge sources of information, or the act of making it appear that someone else’s work is your own. All sources that you use must be cited in your manuscript. Plagiarism is often the unintentional failure to document sources accurately. That is why it is important to understand the correct citation procedures that are outlined in this guide. Any time you use information, facts, statistics, opinions, hypotheses, or ideas from an outside source, it is essential that you give the author(s) credit for them. Outside sources include: (a) books, (b) websites, (c) periodicals, (d) newspapers, (e) interviews, (f) speeches, (g) radio or television programs, (h) court cases, and (i) letters or other correspondence. Even personal communication with an authoritative source should be cited (though personal communication is not shown in the references). Your documentation must be thorough and be correctly placed within the body of your paper as well as in the reference section. Information that is common knowledge, such as widely known information about current events, famous people, or geographical facts, normally does not need to be cited. However, if you are in doubt as to whether information is common knowledge, use a citation.

An example of common knowledge would be attention-deficit disorder (ADD) as a description of hyperactive children. However, when explaining more detailed, specific information about the disorder, you would need to cite a reference, as with the following sentence:

Most parents and teachers are concerned about the diagnosis or attention deficit disorder (ADD), yet it only affects about 2% of boys and a much smaller percentage of girls (Morrison, 2001).

This sentence is paraphrased, rather than quoting information from Morrison’s book, but if the sentence had contained one or more key phrases from his book, quotation marks and the page number of the quote would have been required. (When quoting online material, which normally has no page numbers, indicate the paragraph number of the online article, using the abbreviation “para.” in place of the page number.)

An Example of Inadvertent Plagiarism

The following example illustrates how writers can plagiarize inadvertently by not paraphrasing properly. This example begins with a quotation from a book by Morrison (2001):

Compared to that of schizophrenia, the course of delusional disorder is less fraught with intellectual and work-related deterioration. Nonetheless, domestic problems are frequent, and depending on subtype, these patients are often swept up in litigation or endless medical tests. (p.169)

In attempting to paraphrase from this quotation, suppose a writer composes the following sentence:

According to Morrison (2001), delusional disorder, as compared to schizophrenia, is less fraught with intellectual and work-related deterioration.

What is wrong with this citation? A careful observer will note that, although the writer changed the order of the ideas in the first sentence of the quotation, the result was a sentence that contained most of the same words and phrases as Morrison (2001): “delusional disorder. . .is less fraught with intellectual and work-related deterioration” (p. 169). In effect, the writer has co-opted Morrison’s well-chosen words and claimed them as one’s own. Regardless of the writer’s intent, this is case of plagiarism, or intellectual theft. It may be inadvertent, but it is still plagiarism.

Correct citation using a quotation. Portions of the writer’s sentence should have been placed in quotation marks because the APA standard of three or more words were repeated in succession from the original source. One possible example of a correct citation that quotes from Morrison (2001) is as follows:

According to Morrison (2001), delusional disorder, as compared to schizophrenia “is less fraught with intellectual and work-related deterioration” (p. 169).

Correct citation using paraphrasing. As emphasized in the publication manual and in this guide, the preferred alternative is to paraphrase Morrison (2001), writing the cited material in one’s own words. Rewording a cited author’s ideas into your own words indicates that you understand what the author has said and that you can convey those ideas to others effectively. The following sentences indicate the writer’s interpretation of Morrison’s statement in the original passage near the beginning of this section. The sentences below not only demonstrate an understanding of Morrison’s words, but also display a certain elegance of expression rivaling Morrison’s well-chosen words:

When comparing delusional disorder with schizophrenia, one may assume that the patient with delusional disorder is less affected because there is not severe deterioration with regard to intellect and work-related functioning. Yet, patients with delusional disorder, depending on the severity and subtype, are often plagued with medical and legal problems (Morrison, 2001).

Deliberate Plagiarism

Even more serious than inadvertent plagiarism is deliberate plagiarism. With the rise of the internet, the temptation often exists to lift entire passages from relevant websites without citing them. When students or other writers face severe time pressure in their busy lives, or they lack confidence in their ability to express themselves, the temptation sometimes becomes too great to resist. Nicely worded passages written by some unknown author are magically transformed into one’s own composition through the use of the copy and paste functions of the MS Word program. Do not yield to this temptation. In the long run, and possibly even in the short term, it can result in negative outcomes for you. If the plagiarism is discovered by your instructor, it could result in failing that assignment, and possibly failing the course. A better alternative is to invest your time and hard work in improving your own writing skills.


Another, less well known, form of plagiarism is self-plagiarism. Plagiarizing oneself is the act of reusing previously written or published work and representing it as new writing. To be clear, repeating large portions of prior published work is not acceptable. However, writers are encouraged to build on prior work, and it is entirely acceptable to repeat some portions of earlier works without citing them. Examples would be descriptions of procedures or research instruments in the Method section. More lengthy re-uses of prior work should be cited and referenced, and not passed off as new writing.

Important Additional Information for Organizing a Manuscript

Heading Levels and Formats

APA format specifies that headings used in manuscripts follow a prescribed format. As shown below, there are five possible heading levels, numbered as shown below, although most manuscripts will not have more than three levels. The information in Table 1 indicates the headings, describes the format of each heading, and is written in the font style used for each heading. You may also observe the headings in this guide, which were created using APA format.

When subheadings are created from a higher level heading, there should be at least two subheadings beneath the higher level heading. If you do not have material for at least two subheadings, just include the material under the higher level heading without using a subheading. There is no need for different sections of a manuscript to have the same number of headings. Method and Result sections often have three heading levels, while the literature review and Discussion sections typically have only two levels.

Table 2

APA Heading Levels and Formats


Level Format


1 Centered, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading, Separate Paragraph

2 Flush Left, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading, Separate Paragraph

3 Indented, boldface, lowercase heading, begins a paragraph, ends with a period.

4 Indented, boldface, italicized, lowercase heading, begins paragraph, ends with period.

5 Indented, italicized, lowercase heading, begins a paragraph, ends with a period.


Useful Websites for APA Style

There are many websites that claim to provide APA format. However, every one viewed for possible inclusion in this guide, other than APA’s own websites shown below, was found to have one or more formatting or style errors. All three of these sites are excellent, and the tutorial is especially useful.

1. APA resources:

Lists APA products and resources, and takes you to the tutorial below.

2. Tutorial:
Overall, excellent tutorial, but with some caveats on the sample pages:

  • Visually, the running head looks too low, more like an inch than the specified half inch.

  • The majority of centered headings are offset to the right because the authors neglected to remove the indent before centering. This is especially evident on the title page, where the correctly centered affiliation is bracketed above and below by title, authors, and Author Note that are offset.

3. Finding article DOIs:

Overall, very good resource, but:

  • Incorrect information and misspelled words can cause failure to find the DOI.

  • The website cannot process ampersands (&). If a journal name has an ampersand, replace it with “and.”

4. National University Library APA style resource:

Provides some good information, but there are some errors in reference examples:

  • In two examples (Chapter in an edited book and Edited book), the publisher name should be listed simply as “Erlbaum.” APA (2010) guidance is to list the publisher “in as brief a form as is intelligible” (p. 187).

  • In two examples (Online publication, DOI and Online publication, no DOI), do not list the issue number because these journals are continuously paginated.

  • In Newspaper article, online version, omit leading “The” from newspaper names (and from journal names as well).

5. Purdue OWL (Online Writing Laboratory) APA style:

Excellent resource. Found no errors in the formatting guidance of this resource.

6. APA Style Blog:

APA blog discussing details APA formatting and style.

7. National University library tutorial:

This tutorial provides a general overview of how to use the NU Library.

8. National University Psychology Research tutorial:

This tutorial discussed how to find material for writing psychology papers. There is quite a bit of overlap between this tutorial and the one above.

Major APA Style Changes From the Publication Manual 5th Edition to the 6th Edition

1. There are new formats and guidelines for referencing electronic and printed journals. For example, for journal articles accessed via an online database such as EBSCOHost or ProQuest, do not use the online database as the article source in a “Retrieved from” statement, but APA requires that you provide a DOI if there is one, as described elsewhere in this guide. For references obtained through open-source websites, a “Retrieved from” statement is still required, but unless the website information is likely to change, APA no longer requires a retrieval date.

2. For books, conference papers, technical reports, and other publications that require a publisher location, always list both the city and state (or foreign country) of publication. For Canadian publications, list the city, province, and country.

3. Quotations from electronic resources without page numbers are cited using a paragraph number, as in: (para. 3).

4. On the title page and all following pages, the running head is now located flush left, outside the top margin in the header, on the same line as the page number.


Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1973). Attitudinal and normative variables as predictors of specific behaviors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27, 41-57. doi: 10.1037/h0034440

American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Butler, M. H., Dahlin, S. K., & Fife, S. T. (2002). “Languaging” factors affecting clients’ acceptance of forgiveness intervention in marital therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 28, 285-298. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2002.tb01187.x

Feldman, D. C. (1984). The development and enforcement of group norms. Academy of Management Review, 9, 47-53. doi: 10.2307/258231

Hackman, J. R. (1992). Group influences on individuals in organizations. In M. D. Dunnette & L. M. Hough (Eds.), Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (2nd ed.), Vol. 3 (pp. 199-267). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Hops, H., Beglan, A., Sherman, L., Arthur, J., Friedman, L., & Olsteen, V. (1987). Home observations of family interactions of depressed woman. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 341-346. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.55.3.341

Kaufman, A. S., & Kaufman, N. L. (Eds.). (2005). Essentials of child psychopathology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Morrison, J. (2001). DSM IV made easy. New York, NY: Guilford.

O’Reilly, C. A., III, Chatman, J., & Caldwell, D. F. (1991). People and organizational culture: A profile comparison approach to assessing person-organization fit. Academy of Management Journal, 34, 487-516. doi: 10.2307/256404

Seikkula, J. (2002). Open dialogues with good and poor outcomes for psychotic crises: Examples from families with violence. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 28, 263-274. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2002.tb01183.x



Abstract 8, 18

“Anonymous” authors 26, 39

APA style websites 49-51

Appendices 20-21

Author first names or initials in manuscripts 22

Author Note 16

Changes in APA 6th edition 52

Citations 21-31

“Anonymous” authors 26, 39

book titles in text 26

citing same reference more than once in a paragraph 27

citing two or more sources together 25

citing two works by the same author together 25

group authors 25

matching citations and references 32-33

no author identified 26

one author 23

organizational authors 25

primary sources 26-27

quotations see Quotations

secondary sources 26-27

six or more authors 24

three to five authors 24

two authors 23-24

two or more sources cited together 25

use of first name or initials in citations 22

Figures 13, 20, 21, 32

Font (Typeface) 10, 11, 12-13, 14, 18, 49

Formatting 9-21

abstract 8, 18

alignment 12, 14, 17

appendices 20-21

plural of “appendix” 21

block quotations 29-30

figures 13, 20, 21, 32

font 10, 11, 12-13, 14, 18, 49

hanging indent 19-20, 32-33

header 12, 14

headings 10, 11, 12, 15-16, 17, 18-19, 21, 48-49

at bottom of page 15-16

capitalization 15, 48-49

centering Level 1 headings 10-11, 15, 19, 50

heading levels/formats 15, 48-49

names of section headings 16, 18-20

introduction 18-19

long quotations 29-30

margins 12

Microsoft Word, use of 9-15, 16, 17, 18, 29

interpreting icons 9-10

Show/Hide icon 10

Show Ruler 11

page numbers 12, 13-15, 16, 23, 28, 29, 30, 46, 52

paragraph numbers 28, 46, 52

references see References

running head 12, 13-15, 16, 52

different first page 13-15

spacing 10-11, 12, 16, 29-30, 32-33, 38, 43

line spacing 10-11, 12, 29-30, 32-33

spacing with punctuation 12, 16, 33, 34, 35, 38, 43

spacing between ellipsis points 31

supplemental materials 20-21

table of contents 2-6, 17

tables 7, 13, 20, 21

title 1, 9, 13, 16

title page 1, 12-13-15, 16, 52

typeface 10, 11, 12-13, 14, 18, 49

Header 12, 13-15, 52

Headings 10-11, 12, 15-16, 17, 18-19, 21, 48-49

at bottom of page 15-16

capitalization 15, 48-49

centering level 1 headings 10-11, 15, 19, 50

heading levels/formats 15, 48-49

names of section headings 16, 18-20

Major style changes from 5th edition to 6th edition of publication manual 51-52

Paraphrasing (vs. quoting) 21, 28, 46-47

Plagiarism 45-49

inadvertent plagiarism 46-47

deliberate plagiarism 48

self-plagiarism 48

Quotations 27-31

adding emphasis (italicizing) in a quotation 31

block quotations 29-30

inserting material into a quotation 30

long quotations (block quotations; 40 words or more) 29-30

long quotations of two or more paragraphs 29-30

punctuation 29-30

nested quotations 30

omitting material from a quotation 31

overuse of quotations 28

paraphrasing (vs. quoting) 21, 28, 46-47

quotations that extend to a second page 28

quotations within quotations (long quotations) 30

quotations within quotations (short quotations) 30

quotations without page numbers 28

short quotations (less than 40 words) 28-29

punctuation 29

References 31-45, 53-54

Article or chapter from an edited book 41

article from an annual publication 38

article (online) see online articles

books 38-42

article or chapter in an edited book 41

entire edited book 41-42

group author 40

one author 39

organizational author 40

publisher information 38, 39, 40, 41

author as publisher 40

omitting state or country 39-40, 52

two or more authors 35, 39-40

“with” author 41

colon to separate title and subtitle 42

DOI 33, 34, 35, 36-38

edited book 41-42

formatting 31-45, 53-54

hanging indent 19-20, 32-33

include only cited material 32

exception for meta-analyses 32

incorrect references 32-33

journal articles 33-38, 53-54

finding DOIs 33, 34, 35, 36-38

from online database 35-36

general format 33-34

internet-only journal without a DOI 37-38

journal article with a DOI 33, 36-37, 53-54

journals with continuous pagination 33-34

journals without continuous pagination 33-34

more than seven authors 35

one author 35

two through seven authors 35

what is a DOI? 36-37

magazine articles 34, 42-43

matching references and citations 32-33

online articles 43-45

online article from a sponsored or titled website 44

online journal, magazine, newspaper, or newsletter article 43-44

undated article 45

website article or information with no author 44-45

publisher information 38, 39, 40, 41, 52, 53

title of reference list 31

Supplemental materials 20-21

Table of contents 2-6, 17

Tables 7, 13, 20, 21

Title page 1, 12-13-15, 16, 52

Typeface (Font) 10, 11, 12-13, 14, 18, 49

Websites for APA style 49-51

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